10 stories you didn’t know about AWOLNATION’s ‘Megalithic Symphony’
In honor of its diamond anniversary, frontman and mastermind behind the project Aaron Bruno shares tales that even his biggest fans don’t know about the groundbreaking album.April 15, 2021
Few modern albums have made as vast of an effect as AWOLNATION’s 14-track Megalithic Symphony, whose songs still live on with no end in sight on social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram. Powerhouse rock tracks “Sail” and “Not Your Fault” defined the decade with their synth-laden instrumentals, gritty vocals and undeniably blunt, raw lyrics.
Reflecting on the record, project creator and vocalist Aaron Bruno shared, “Looking back can be strange, for sure. I guess, if nothing else, I’m extremely surprised that I lasted this long. I’m surprised that anyone cared about this first record and still do.”
With the never-ending buzz about this 2011 Red Bull Records LP, the time called for a 10-year anniversary deluxe edition re-release. This time, AWOLNATION shared bonus tracks “Cannibals,” “Some Kind Of Joke” and more, as well as live performances of “All I Need” and beyond. Plus, listeners can hear remixes of the album’s songs from alt-rocker Robert DeLong all the way to award-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar.
Fresh off the release of his 2020 album release, Angel Miners & The Lightning Riders, and 2021 collab with Yung Bae, “Disco Body Parts,” Bruno is ready to return to where it all began for a special anniversary livestream via Veeps, where AWOLNATION will play Megalithic Symphony in its entirety. You can catch the show April 17 at 5 p.m. EST. Tickets are available here.
Throughout the creation and rise of his album, Bruno has kept some of these stories under wraps or never had a reason to tell them—until now. In celebration of 10 years of Megalithic Symphony and the project’s upcoming Veeps livestream show, here are 10 stories you never knew about the album and its effect.
— Veeps (@Veeps) March 23, 2021
I know you have the Veeps show coming up, and I know you’ve done a few digital shows here and there, but are you excited for this one? Is it going to feel closer to an in-person show with bigger production?
This show, it’s the 10 year anniversary of the first album. So if nothing else, it’s just been a very strange exercise into observing what the hell I was thinking at the time, from having 14-minute songs to some of the lyrics. And luckily, none of it is too ridiculous where I feel embarrassed to sing, and another plus is that throughout the 10 years, we’ve played most of these songs from the first record. There’s only maybe four that feel pretty rusty. But the rest, I have played at some point, with the exception of one song called “Wake Up” that we stopped playing maybe six years ago because it just never sounded really good. So now, we’re going to do our best to make sure that this sounds passable.
Can you believe it’s already been a decade? It truly feels like the years have passed by quickly.
Ten years is definitely a pretty long time. Twenty years will come and go as well, I’m sure. I don’t take myself extremely seriously. The music is dead serious. The relationship with the fans is dead serious. The emotions are serious for the most part, of course. But I don’t spend a lot of time celebrating any of the stuff. My wife just put all of my “awards,” she calls them, which are plaques and stuff. Those are collecting dust. I mostly love making new music. So, it’s hard to find time to celebrate this 10-year thing, although, it has been fun to look back on all of it and mostly all the people who helped along the way. It’s been a healthy reason to reach out to some people and say, “Hey, you know what? Remember what we went through together, you know, 10, eight, six years ago?” and reminisce a little bit. Because something a lot of people maybe don’t know is that first record accidentally lasted something like four years. It just kept going and going. So it was a longer record cycle than what is usual.
Are there any behind-the-scenes facts fans don’t know about “Sail” or the making of the song?
A lot of people don’t know that “Sail” wasn’t even going to be a single. “Burn It Down” was the first single. And a station in Austin, Texas, decided to play “Sail” anyways because they just thought it was something that maybe their fans would relate to. And that was the reason that it happened. I don’t even know if it would have been a single had this guy named Toby Ryan had not played it in Austin, Texas.
The other thing I never told anyone is that there was a period with “Sail” [where] some people around me were suggesting that it needed a chorus. So, I actually tried to add a different course than what it is now. And it was right around the time that Michael Jackson had passed away. So I wrote this course that was supposed to be a tribute to him in some way, and it sucked. So I deleted it. And I’m really glad I made that decision. [Laughs.]
Starting with Megalithic Symphony and moving forward, you’ve worked with a lot of people. Are there any people who reached out to you to collaborate after they heard your first record?
Yeah, tons of artists and tons of people I really looked up to a lot. Some of which didn’t get to be released. I was really flattered along the way of how many artists that were influential to me grew to accept the songs I had written, starting probably with Rivers Cuomo from Weezer. We’ve become friends over the years now. And we have a song together [“Pacific Coast Highway In The Movies”], and we’ve actually golfed together, as well. Then sometime during that first record cycle as well, Rick Rubin, I heard that he was a big fan. Rick Rubin is everything to me. So, we got in contact, and then I ended up having this really interesting relationship with him. We had these listening sessions where I’ve played a lot of my demos for him. And we just sat, enjoyed music and talked music together. And I’m always nervous because I want him to, of course, be blown away by everything. So that was really cool. Mike D did a remix from the Beastie Boys. Even Joey [Santiago] from the Pixies reached out. One strange thing is Elon Musk tweeted out that “Sail” was his favorite song of the year or month or something like that a while ago. And that blew my mind. And he was less known at the time, so there’s been a bunch of little things like that.
Did you have any bizarre studio experiences around the time of recording?
I should share this one story. I got this random phone call, this was after the record had come out. I still hadn’t made the second record yet, but I think I was starting to work on the second record. But we were in between two tours, and I was at Red Bull Studios in Santa Monica. In a nutshell, Steve Perry from Journey got my phone number. He left me this really sweet message, saying all this nice stuff that I never thought I’d hear from anyone, let alone him. Really complimentary. And he said he wanted to talk and get to know each other. And so we called him back, and we had a plan for him to come to the studio. And I don’t remember the exact day. So let’s just call it a Wednesday. So it’s a Tuesday. Now remember, he’s supposed to show up on Wednesday, at least in my mind. So it’s a Tuesday. I’m working on some sort of bonus song. I think it was a song called “Some Kind Of Joke.” Actually, that is on the deluxe package and is on this 10-year anniversary. And I remember all the instruments were in the right place, and it was time to add drums. And that was always my favorite part of the recording process. So I went outside and I smoked the hugest blunt you could ever imagine. And just by myself, like just straight all the way to 10. And I came back inside, and then me and my engineer Eric [Stenman] were sitting in the lounge room, and we hear a bang on the door. I couldn’t even talk to my parents at this point. I knew the only thing I could do this high was play drums, nothing else—certainly not meet someone. It was Steve Perry. I didn’t even know if my hand was my own hand. It was the highest you could possibly be. And those are very sobering moments. Of course, we’ve all run into our parents high or talked to them [high] or got caught in the wrong situation. It was one of those. And so my first Steve Perry experience was when I was way too high, but I held it together nice. And luckily, Steve and I have remained friends ever since, so I didn’t blow it.
OK, so if you didn’t know, there are so many people excited that “Cannibals” made the deluxe edition. There are whole Reddit threads dedicated to hearing it live in 2012 when you were touring the album, but it wasn’t a track, and I’m wondering what happened to it. So what made you bring this song back and put it on this record?
Well, it seemed to go over really well with the few folks we played it for back in 2012. We played it like two or three times on this one tour and probably pretty poorly at that. [Laughs.] And so the fact that it translated enough for some of our fans to really want to hear it was extremely flattering. And so hopefully they weren’t let down. I’ve heard plenty of B-sides played by bands I loved, and then once I finally heard the recorded version, it was a huge letdown. So I’m hoping that this went above and beyond.
I’ve seen a lot of buzz about that song in particular. And I know a lot of other people like the bonus tracks outside of “Cannibals.” Do you have a favorite track that appeared on the deluxe that didn’t appear on the original one or one that stood out to you?
I think that [“Cannibals” is] my favorite whole song. There were other songs that were on the Megalithic deluxe that I liked a lot. There’s a song called “Everybody’s Got A Secret” that was for Tim Burton‘s Frankenweenie movie that we added to the deluxe package. And then that other song “Some Kind Of Joke” was in the Iron Man soundtrack and was the only song that appeared actually in the movie. And there’s a bar scene you could hear really quietly in the background. I got to be part of the Marvel Universe just once. I was just honored to be associated with Tim Burton at all. And I got to watch a screening of that movie before it was finalized.
So did the song title come first, or did the album name come first?
The album name came first. I was studying about megalithic structures, which are unexplained or unexplainable, at least to the public. And so [I was] just going down the rabbit hole 10 years ago into a lot of stuff that has become a lot more common knowledge now. And not that I was ahead of the game or anything. It is just what I was really interested in at the time—trying to figure out why certain things are the way they are that haven’t been quite explained to us, again, at least to the public. And there’s got to be some people who know. And so I was studying that quite a bit. And then I also realized, like, “Well, there’s not a great explanation as to why I’ve thought of these songs and someone else hasn’t.” I don’t give myself credit necessarily for writing these songs. I feel like I’m at the right place at the right time to receive these song ideas. And I don’t know what from or where from. But it’s unexplainable. I don’t know why or how I came up with that whole first album or any of these songs, for that matter. Even with “Sail,” it was like an out-of-body experience, where it came so fast and so quick to me that it felt like it had already been written for me in some ways. And I was just lucky enough to receive it. And so hence the name Megalithic Symphony.
Was there a lyric or song that was either super vulnerable or just super outrageous?
I remember when I wrote “Sail,” [I was] thinking some of these lyrics are pretty dark. I thought, “Well, no one’s going to hear it anyway, so who cares?” It remains a very strange thing for me. I guess no one had ever talked about A.D.D. in that way in a song, really. And it was just a riddle that came to me, as I’ve been told, I had A.D.D., and that was the excuse as to why I was getting bad grades in high school. And maybe I have some form of it. And I know a lot of people do. But I think even more than that, I just didn’t give a shit about what I was being taught.